Everything about Canada: The Story of Us, eh?

The Story of Us: Hunting treasures makes worlds collide

I have been hearing some noise about CBC’s Canada: The Story of Us, and to be honest, I was excited. I always fall for these milestone events—be they the Olympics or major moments with the Royal Family—and Canada’s 150th falls into this category. I also completely understand why Canada 150 touches a nerve and, depending upon my frame of mind at the moment, it touches mine at times too. However, as an eternal optimist, I always hope these events can lead to an opportunity for bridge-building rather than more walls erected.

And it is clear from the very first moment that this a politically-motivated series with an opening statement by Prime Minister Trudeau. It is a statement that needs to be made, but I question the need for it here. His message: that we as Canadians do have a “dark past that we are only just coming to understand as we move forward into a new chapter that is the story of us.”

And so it goes. “We are explorers, and risk takers, dreamers and fighting the odds in a land of extremes.” Go us!

Christopher Plummer, Rick Hansen, Adrienne Clarkson, Missy Peregrym, Lorne Cardinal, Paul Gross, Georges St. Pierre, Joseph Boyden, Colm Feore

The first episode is entitled “Worlds Collide,” and it very carefully walks the delicate line that currently exists between cultures as we begin—although I find the position of “beginning” questionable—a chronological journey through Canada’s history with the story of Samuel du Champlain and the Beaver Wars. Now I say “story” intentionally. Much of the grittier detail is elided over in this retelling, obviously for time’s sake. But throughout, I felt this was all sugar-coated; re-enactments enhanced by CGI imagery. Toss in the many celebrities liberally peppered throughout with the odd historian, like John English, Ph.D., History of Trinity College and you have the “opening chapter” of Canada: The Story of Us with the establishment of New France.

The first episode also describes the process by which France promotes population growth in New France: Filles du Roi—Daughters of the King—women sent over by France to propagate and make the new colony viable, the birth of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the Battle of Quebec in 1759.

Episode 2 “Hunting Treasures” airing next Sunday, suggests the epic quest for treasures: our natural resources. Our country was not begun by a settler society but rather a mercantile society. The entrepreneurial spirit is strong and is what motivated the quest to conquer a landscape wrought with so many challenges.

First, we learn the history of St. John, New Brunswick, featuring the story of William Hazen, an American who has come north to escape the War of Independence and make his fortune in the wood trade.

Peter Mansbridge, Clara Hughes, Rick Mercer, Eugene Levy, Tatiana Maslany, Georges Laraque, Sarah Gadon, John Ralston Saul, Atom Egoyan

Next, the series tackles the complexities that influenced the competition between the Hudson’s Bay Company and The North West Company in their quest for dominance and monetary gain. Enmeshed in this competition was the importance of horses and buffalo, and the alliances between Indigenous tribes and their unique connection to the land, all of which presented challenges that needed to be overcome. The abundance of resources created a mindset that ofttimes persists today: resources are to be entirely exploited until they are virtually extinct.

The story of Mathew Bell is the next story to unfold. Bell is a man from Britain who sets the course for industrialization in Lower Canada, and made Canadian winters bearable with his creation of the “Canada Stove.” This innovation also made Les Forges Saint- Maurice the first company able to guarantee his employees a year-round wage and set a precedent for company towns that would continue to spring up across the country like Hamilton, Ont., and Fort McMurray, Alberta. We learn a bit about Chief Maquinna of Nootka Sound in present-day B.C., and his influence on the north-west fur trade and current diplomacy for which Canada is renown.

We close with the retelling of Sir Alexander Mackenzie’s passage across the Rockies in order to bring The North West Co. to that coast, uniting the fur trade across the continent.

To be perfectly frank, after Episode 1, I was not at all impressed and delayed settling in to watch Episode 2 for the purposes of this review. I was also disappointed that The Story of Us, basically began with the traditional Discovery Story, the way our textbooks have always treated the history of Canada. Understandably there is more documentation regarding the history of Canada post contact, yet still at this time when we are working toward reconciliation, it would have been nice to have more than 45 seconds devoted to the 12+ thousands of years before Samuel du Champlain’s arrival.

However, I found next week’s instalment much more engaging and I am looking forward to seeing what Episode 3 will bring. It didn’t hurt that “Hunting Treasures” closed with Peter Mansbridge evoking some patriotism the way only he can, with his closing statement: “Our natural resources will always be incredibly important, but don’t kid yourself … it is our people, Canadians, that are our greatest resource.” You don’t have to tell me, I am well aware I am a sucker for this stuff!

Overall, the cinematography is stunning. The use of CGI was a bit overdone in my opinion. I am not a huge fan of re-enactments but these were well done. I wish, as a student, when I was forced to learn Canadian history I had Canada: The Story of Us to watch. It is far more entertaining and engaging than the dry textbooks we had to study. By no means does this cover all of the details, but as a tool for educators, it would be a worthy device to introduce segments of our history to students. Parents, sit down with your school-aged children and watch. Some events will be very familiar while others may be a pleasant surprise.

Canada: The Story of Us airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on CBC.


Link: Canada: The Story of Us is just pop history for kids

From John Doyle of The Globe and Mail:

Link: Canada: The Story of Us is just pop history for kids
Canada: The Story of Us (Sunday, CBC, 9 p.m.) a peculiar production, laden and fraught. For a start, it all seems very, very official. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau opens the show with a cheery little speech about “co-operation and acceptance.” He encourages viewers to be, like him, “inspired” by the great Canadians we will encounter in the 10-part series. A lot of them, oddly enough, are actors, writers, performers and singers. Celebs, in other words. Continue reading.


Canada celebrates 150 years with CBC’s The Story of Us

Julie Bristow told me she was aiming to get some big-name Canadians to participate in Canada: The Story of Us and she came through. Sunday’s debut, at 9 p.m., opens with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau teasing what the next 10 weeks will explore.

“Tonight, and throughout this series, we meet some of the extraordinary women and men who shaped our country’s unique character,” Trudeau begins. “I hope that, like me, you’ll be inspired by these heroic Canadians so that together we can write the next chapter in the great Canadian story.”

Trudeau is just one of over 80 Canadians—among them Susan Aglukark, Lorne Cardinal, Paul Gross, Eugene Levy, Duncan McCue, Peter Mansbridge, Tatiana Maslany, Rick Mercer, Candy Palmater, Christopher Plummer, Lilly Singh, Georges St-Pierre, Clement Virgo, Colm Feore and David Suzuki—who participate in telling key stories from the country’s past as we celebrate 150 years as a nation.

“As a producer and journalist, this is the perfect combination for me,” Bristow Global Media president and CEO, and Story of Us executive producer Bristow says. “It’s mixing up modern ways of storytelling with CGI, celebrity interviews and re-creations of personal stories is a fresh take on documentaries. I really like doing shows that demand different skill sets and different teams.”

Samuel de Champlain

Stunning in scope and with so much history to cover, Bristow says over 150 stories were pitched and 50 were chosen for the 10, 60-minute instalments to spotlight everything from Canada’s birth to where the country’s future lies. Sunday’s debut starts, naturally, at the beginning with “Worlds Collide,” covering pre-1608 to 1670, as French settlers arrive and make an immediate impact on the Indigenous peoples who have lived there for centuries. Corner Gas‘ Lorne Cardinal and film and television producer Jennifer Podemski help outline the First Nations people of the time, a community with advanced democracies in place.

Samuel de Champlain is the first European sent to The New World specifically to settle the area and name it New France. His crew of 27 men contend with the elements, and an assassination plot, as the set down roots in an impressive settlement at the site of what is now Quebec City. Britain gets in on the action, and it’s a race between the countries to claim as much land and befriend as many First Nations communities as they can. This, ultimately, leads to the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.

Using stunning CGI, well-done re-enactments and under the guidance of historians and academic consultants—including renowned Canadian historian and author John English and Indigenous Arts Scholar Gerald McMaster—Canada: The Story of Us is informative and immensely entertaining. It’s certainly more thrilling than any history class I’ve sat in, no matter how good the teacher.

“In every episode, there are five personal stories that echo a theme,” Bristow says. “While every episode is loosely chronological, it’s not comprehensive. Each is a coming-of-age episode. Against all odds, we’re here as a country and a lot of the story is, ‘Can you believe it?!'”

Canada: The Story of Us airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.


CBC scheduling alert: Anne and Canada: The Story of Us changes

From a media release:

The following changes have been made to CBC’s schedule. ANNE (1×120, 6×60) fans will no longer have to wait for the return of the acclaimed new series, with the air date for the second episode moving up from Sunday, April 2 at 8 p.m. (8:30 NT) to Sunday, March 26 at 8 p.m. (8:30NT). New episodes of ANNE will continue to air Sundays at 8 pm (8:30 NT).

As a result of that change, the premiere of new docu-drama series CANADA: STORY OF US (10 x 60) will move from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. (9:30 NT) on Sunday, March 26, with one episode airing instead of back-to-back episodes. Episode 102 will now air on Sunday, April 2 at 9 p.m. (9:30NT). New episodes of the series will continue to air Sundays at 9 p.m. (9:30NT).

Schedule changes:
Moved: Episode 102 of ANNE moves from Sunday, April 2 @ 8 p.m. to Sunday, March 26 @ 8 p.m. (8:30NT).

Moved: The premiere of CANADA: THE STORY OF US Episode 101 moves from Sunday, March 26 @ 8 p.m. to Sunday, March 26 @ 9 p.m. (9:30NT). Episode 102 will now air on Sunday, April 2 @ 9 p.m. (9:30NT).

Updated primetime schedule for Sunday, March 26 (NT time zone half-hour later for all times)

Updated 8 PM: ANNE – Episode 102 (“I am no bird, and no net ensnares me”)
Updated 9 PM: CANADA: THE STORY OF US – Series Premiere, Episode 101 (“Worlds Collide”)

Updated primetime schedule for Sunday, April 2 (NT time zone half-hour later for all times)

Updated 8 PM: ANNE – Episode 103 (“But what is so headstrong as youth?”)
9 PM: CANADA: THE STORY OF US – Episode 102 (“Hunting Treasures”)


Set visit: Canada: The Story of Us

It’s not often you’re given the opportunity to step back into Canada’s past, but that’s exactly what I did last Thursday. The beach at Hamilton’s 50 Point Conservation Area was transformed into Normandy’s Juno Beach, the site where Canadian troops stormed ashore during D-Day.

With just a line of orange pylons separating filming from the public beach, a handful of actors dressed in the fatigues of the time darted up the dense sand countless times, diving behind Czech hedgehogs for scant cover as explosions (peat moss stuffed into metal bowls and then blown skyward) went off around them. The footage filmed portrayed how William “Boots” Bettridge and his fellow Queen’s Own Rifles land on the beach and call in aerial attacks on German tanks.

The segment, and 49 others, are part of Bristow Global Media’s massive production, Canada: The Story of Us, for CBC. Debuting next year to celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary, other scenes filmed along Lake Ontario’s shores that day included Samuel de Champlain paddling a canoe and a re-creation of the struggle of Nguyen Ngoc Ngan, one of 60,000 Vietnamese refugees who came to Canada following the Vietnam War. Playing Ngan? His son, Tien Ngoc Ngan. Bristow Global Media president and CEO Julie Bristow says all the tales told in Canada: The Story of Us are personal ones.

“As a producer and journalist, this is the perfect combination for me,” Bristow says. “It’s mixing up modern ways of storytelling with CGI, celebrity interviews and re-creations of personal stories is a fresh take on documentaries. I really like doing shows that demand different skill sets and different teams.” She adds over 150 stories were pitched and 50 were chosen for the 10, 60-minute instalments to spotlight everything from Canada’s birth to where the country’s future lies.

“We like to say that, without the actions of that person, Canada may never have been the same,” she says. “It could be a small action, but without the bravery of some people that we don’t know, history might have been different.”

Canada: The Story of Us airs in 2017 on CBC.